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Preventing the development and use of biological weapons in the 21st century: ethics, life scientists and the role of next British government

posted on 2023-06-07, 20:56 authored by Masamichi Minehata, James Revill
Just as the information technology revolution profoundly affected the 20th Century, so biotechnology, with its growing capacity to enable humankind to understand and manipulate the fundamental life processes, looks set to have a significant impact on the 21st Century. It offers great benefits, giving a potential means of responding to societal challenges, such as those related to illness, hunger, poverty and energy. Yet at the same time, it is also generating a range of direct and indirect technological advances which in combination, could increase the strategic utility of biological weapons and hence increase the likelihood that such weapons will be incorporated into the military arsenals of states (and perhaps also of terrorist groups) in the 21st Century. This essay outlines a number of practical steps that the next British Government could undertake to sustain the UK's leading role in responding to the global challenge of biological weapons in the 21st Century. It begins by highlighting salient changes in both science and security that have potentially enhanced the prospects for the incorporation of biological weapons. It then underlines the crucial importance of engaging with life scientists on their ethical responsibilities, at a time when the challenge of biological weapons cannot be dealt with by governments alone, but rather requires activity at a range of different levels from the 'individual to the international'. In this connection, it examines the role (and limits) of ethics, awareness raising and education. Finally, this essay concludes with a set of recommendations which could be undertaken by governments and individuals as part of an effort to prevent the exploitation of biotechnology in warfare in the 21st Century.


Publication status

  • Published


2010 Science, Ethics and Politics Competition:- Voice Your Vision: What advice would you give the next British Government on a key science or technology topic?


British Pugwash Group

Department affiliated with

  • SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit Publications


Winning entry to the British Pugwash Group 2010 Science, Ethics and Politics Competition Voice Your Vision.

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